I had the honour of emceeing/hosting (along with my brother Jason) the “Celebration of Life” for my late Uncle Junie this past Wednesday. Tragically, Uncle Junie (my mom’s brother) passed away on May 14 at Vancouver General Hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm while at Revs Bowling and Entertainment Centre in Burnaby.
It was almost fitting that Uncle Junie passed away in the company of good friends in a place he loved. It is strikingly similiar to how my Dad passed away in October 2004: while on the Burnaby Mountain Golf Course, playing the game he loved with some of his closest friends.
It was our experience with putting Dad’s memorial service together that likely led Deb (Uncle Junie’s wife) to ask Jason, Mom and me to assist with Uncle Junie’s service. We were glad to help and were grateful that our experience from our own family tragedy 5 years ago could be beneficial in assisting the family.
It was a simple yet powerful memorial service at the Firefighters Conference Centre in Burnaby, as close to 300 family members and friends gathered to remember a good man.
I had the privilege of opening the service with a prayer, in which I thanked God for the outpouring of love shown by the family and friends gathered, and asked for His blessing upon the family as they cope with their loss. I remarked that sometimes it’s hard to understand why bad things happen to good people, but that we must ultimately put our faith and trust that God’s will is being done, and that we must be obedient to it. Death can often lead to more abundant life, and God will never bring us to something that we can’t get through.
(As an aside, a couple of my mom’s friends later asked her if I was a minister. I think Mom answered by saying I wasn’t an ordained minister, rather a lay Youth Minister in the Catholic Church.)
Jason and I went on to invite family members and friends to share stories and memories. It was nice to hear how Uncle Junie had touched so many lives.
But the highlight for me was when Jessica (Uncle Junie’s 14 year-old daughter) spoke. Even though we’re not super-close, I’ve always felt a special bond with my cousin, ever since she served as our Flower Girl for our wedding way back in July 2000 (Jessica was only 5 at the time).
Jessica’s tribute was simply amazing: it was emotional, heartfelt, and powerful. As I watched and listened to Jessica deliver her words, I was overcome with pride and emotion. I still can’t figure out how she made it through without breaking down (Jason and I both broke down when delivering tributes to Dad at his service in 2004). Jessica’s stories ranged from funny: “I was counting on you to beat up my boyfriends” to heart-wrenching: “I can’t believe you won’t be there to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day.”
Through it all, Jessica remained composed, a true pillar of strength. A quick glance at the audience suggested that they weren’t doing as well (me included). There was barely a dry eye in the room.
Afterwards, I told her that she did a wonderful job…that she did something many adults couldn’t have done…regardless of their public speaking skills. She remarked that she had practiced reading it through close to 10 times until she could get through the entire thing without stopping.
Later that night, still marveling, I sent Jessica a quick message saying: “Hey cousin…I was so proud of you today. You are so strong…thanks for the inspiration.”
To which Jessica humbly replied: “Thanks cuz! I did it for my daddy, I think he helped me out a bit.”
Without a doubt.